Connect with HR – Social Media – Do you have a policy?

Posted on December 5, 2012 by admin | Posted in Highlights

Connect with HR – Social Media – Do you have a policy?

Do you ever wonder how much time your employees are spending on social media and internet sites during the workday?  And is using the internet for non-business use “stealing time” from an employer?

Do your employees believe that their email is secure and that they have a “right” to chat with friends via Facebook or other social media sites?

As you are aware, there has been a great deal of discussion recently about company computer use and email and the employee’s right  to privacy. Until recently, employees had no right to “expectation of privacy” when it came to their computer activity at work.

However, in January 2012 the Court of Appeal recognized that  employees had a reasonable expectation of privacy that arose out of their personal use of their work computer. Unless an employer has a specific and strict policy on expectation of privacy regarding company owned computers and handheld devices, an employer cannot discipline or terminate an employee based on the employer’s investigation of unacceptable computer use.

In 2010 a government employee with 27 years seniority was terminated for inappropriate and non-work-related activities, including viewing pornographic material and excessive use of the internet for non-work related activities.  When the case went to adjudication, the employee was reinstated.  The adjudicator found that the employee, though spending more than 50% of his time on non-work related sites, still completed all of his assigned tasks in a timely manner and that the Government did not have a clear policy on the use of government owned computers and internet.

Why is it important to have a clear and detailed Social Media and Computer Use policy?  Because by having these policies and ensuring that every employee acknowledges these policies, the employee understands that he/she has no right to privacy when using company-owned computers.  Furthermore, employees agree to be bound by the policies, which should include specific points regarding the use of social media to provide information about the company, blog about work-related issues, slander other employees or management; etc., all of which could result in discipline and/or termination.

Should you insist on an annual acknowledgement of your policies?  According to some experts it isn’t necessary,  however, we disagree.  Recently we assisted a client in terminating an employee who had been with the company for 15 years and who was spending a significant part of each day viewing internet sites and socializing via company email, all of which was contributing to sloppy work and missing deadlines.  In discussion with the lawyer regarding the termination, the lawyer stated that the employee could use the “I don’t remember the policy” excuse as he had been with the company for a long time and the courts would accept this as reasonable.  However, the client had insisted that each year all of its employees re-acknowledge that they will abide by company policies, and specifically Computer Use and Social Media Policies. This employee had signed his acknowledgement 4 months prior to the proposed termination date!  The lawyer stated “oh well – it’s a slam-dunk”!  The employee was fired for “cause”.

So what points should your Computer Usage and Social Media Policies contain?

The reason why random computer usage reviews are carried out; i.e., technical maintenance, repair, legal requirements to produce records, ensuring continuity of work processes and preventing misconduct and compliance with the law.

Regarding social media, the policy must ensure employees understand that publications and comments made from home are not necessarily “private or beyond reproach”.

These are just two examples of what policies should contain but the list is far more extensive, including disclaimers regarding opinions about the company, installation of software onto company owned computers, limiting social media to breaks only, safeguarding passwords, etc.

It is better to make the policies as extensive as possible so there are no loop-holes employees can use to avoid discipline or possible termination.  By having employees re-acknowledge their adherence to these policies annually, you’ll ensure that no-one “forgets”!

If you need help in developing your Computer Use or Social Networking Policy, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We can help!

Jacq Hammond

Director, Human Resources Advisory Services at